Study supports road pricing: Car charges could be election issue

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Indy Politics
JOHN MACGREGOR will publish a feasibility study around Easter showing that it is possible to impose charges on motorists for commuting by car into crowded towns and cities.

The Secretary of State for Transport is planning to publish the results of the study in an attempt to soften public opinion for the potentially unpopular policy decision to charge people for driving on crowded roads, which may have to be taken shortly before the next election.

Mr MacGregor has decided to call the system 'congestion charging' in the hope of making it more acceptable. Final proposals are due to be produced in 1995, which is certain to make it a general election issue.

Mr MacGregor has told colleagues that he will not delay the programme, in spite of the controversy it could cause. He wants the feasibility study to spark off a national debate about charging for using cars as a first step to introducing the policy.

The Secretary of State insists he has not reached any firm decisions, but he believes the growing problem of car congestion has changed public attitudes, and may have hastened the day when car drivers will be charged. The systems being explored include the use of 'smart cards' which could pay at toll booths on main roads into cities, or new technology to track car users as they move into towns.

Advisers are still debating the amount which would have to be charged to persuade some drivers to take public transport. Mr MacGregor believes the money raised should be used to improve transport services, and will resist Treasury attempts to raise the charges to offset the public sector borrowing requirement.

The Department of Transport is also moving towards imposing charges on all inter-urban motorways. The aim would be to charge for using motorways which had been improved. But a senior ministerial source said: 'Most motorways will be improved in some way or other. That means we will charge for using them.'

Ministers are studying the wider operation of lower speed limits to ease congestion, following the announcement that part of the M25 will be limited to 60 and 50mph at rush hours.

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